Thai parliament approves marriage equality law

The Thai parliament yesterday (27 March) voted 399 to 10 to approve the Marriage Equality bill at the final reading, paving the way for Thailand to become the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize marriage for all. At the same time, the use of gendered language in the bill leads to the concern that some rights will remain limited for LGBTQ people.

A rainbow Pride flag was placed on top of the model of the Constitution above Democracy Monument during a protest on 22 August 2021.
(File photo)

The bill proposes to amend the Civil and Commercial Code to use “spouse” instead of “husband” and “wife” and “person” instead of “man” and “woman” to allow marriage registration regardless of gender. All legislation relating to “husband” and “wife” will automatically apply to legally married spouses.

It also proposes to raise the age at which a person can legally marry from 17 to 18 years old, in line with international children’s rights principles.

Move Forward Party MP Nutthawut Buaprathum proposed that to prevent child marriage, the amendments should remove the provision in the Civil and Commercial Code allowing the marriage of an underaged person if they obtain a court order. However, parliament voted to keep this provision.

The final draft of the bill also did not include the gender-neutral term “primary parent" to accompany the terms “mother” and “father,” raising concerns that such gendered language would limit the rights of LGBTQ couples, especially those with children. Members of civil society who were part of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill explained during today’s session in parliament that including the term “primary parent” would make the law inclusive of all identities, including queer or non-binary people.

However, a representative of the majority on the ad hoc committee said that including the term means at least 47 other pieces of legislation would have to be amended, that it would lead to issues in how the term is to be interpreted, and there is no official research on what the impact of including the term would be.

Parliament ultimately voted not to include the term “primary parent” in the amendments, using only the terms “mother” and “father.”

A version of the Marriage Equality bill was proposed in November 2020 by MPs from the Move Forward Party. It passed its first reading in June 2022 along with a Civil Partnership bill proposed by the Ministry of Justice and endorsed by the Cabinet and the Office of the Council of State. Both bills were then forwarded to an ad-hoc committee, but were not returned to parliament in time for their second and third readings before parliament was dissolved.

Out of concern that a cabinet would not be appointed in time to restore the bill to parliament within the 60-day time limit, the MFP re-submitted its marriage equality bill to parliament so that it will not be automatically dismissed.

Meanwhile, a network of civil society organizations and LGBTQ rights activist groups also proposed its own version of the bill, which was submitted to parliament after gaining over 10,000 signatures from eligible voters.

In December 2023, parliament passed the first readings of both the MFP and civil society versions of the bill, as well as versions proposed by the Cabinet and the Democrat Party. The bills were then passed to a 39-person ad hoc committee, whose combined draft was returned to parliament for the second and third readings.

The bill will now be passed to the Senate for another three readings before it is signed into law. iLaw noted that the Senate cannot dismiss a bill outright that has been approved by the House of Representatives. It can, however, request amendments, which will have to be approved by the House. If the House disagrees with the Senate, another ad hoc committee will be formed to amend the bill before putting it through the parliamentary process again.

If a bill does not gain approval from the Senate, it will go back to the House for consideration. A bill can be brought back to parliament after 180 days, or 10 days if it is a finance-related bill. If the House then votes to approve the original draft, it will enter the process of becoming law.

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